Monday, September 27, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

What made the first Wall Street good (not great) was that it broke down very complex, segmented issues for those who were fiscally inept.  But its sequel, alas, falls short of this criterion by a long shot.  And them some.

For most of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone’s follow up to his much better 1987 film, I hadn’t the slightest idea what the hell the main characters were talking about.  Like Stone’s last film, W., a lot of the characters in this Wall Street sit around large tables in large conference rooms talking about a familiar concept (money) by using complicated terms that only 5 percent of the American population will be able to understand.

I don’t expect to be able to comprehend every single detail of every single film, but if I don’t understand it, the material should at least be presented in a compelling way.  I have no idea how to diffuse a bomb, but that doesn’t make The Hurt Locker any less interesting.

Following the aftermath of the last film, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) has just served an eight year bit in prison, and now, on the eve of the biggest American financial meltdown in history, he’s become a successful writer and motivational speaker.  After delivering one amusing speech, he’s stopped by stock market prodigy Jake (Shia LaBeouf) who tells Gekko that he will soon marry his estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan).

That should be enough for a plot, but Stone weighs his film down with stock market revenge games involving the VP of a firm (Josh Brolin), Jake’s mentor (Frank Langella), and a bunch of suited-up rich dudes.  Other plot elements include Jake’s debt ridden mother (Susan Sarandon), and his fascination with… motorcycles.

I mean, Jesus Christ, why so much?

My main hesitation walking into this film was LaBeouf’s ability to pull off a lead role opposite Douglas reprising his best role.  To say LaBeouf pulls it off is an understatement.  The 24-year-old actor damn near carries the film, that is, unless his scenes are being stolen from Mulligan, who has every right to be argued as one of the best actresses of her generation.  The tender relationship the two share (which, of course, resulted into them having a real life relationship) is the highlight of the film.  The way Jake proposes to Winnie is touching and original; it’s a standout scene.

The rest of the acting is top notch. Brolin has a blast playing the gutless villain while Douglas fits seamlessly into the role that won him an Oscar more than 20 years ago.  And there is an obvious but extremely rewarding cameo that should earn applause from the audience. But the film is simply not compelling.  Maybe it’s because there is too much going on, maybe it’s because, at times, it’s hard to understand exactly WHAT is going on.

The blogosphere is blowing up with criticism surrounding this film’s ending.  I didn’t have a problem with it.  But maybe by then I was just glad it was over.  C

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